Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Now the Mercury News Faces More Layoffs

Carole Leigh Hutton, the brand new executive editor of the San Jose Mercury News, called a staff meeting on Wednesday to announce, that, yes, there would be cuts in the newsroom, but she couldn’t yet say how many.

Final figures will be worked out in the next few weeks as managers draw up their fiscal 2007-2008 budget. Every group of employees, from Guild members to managers, are apparently at risk.

Rumors have been swirling for days that as many as 60 staffers – 1 out of every 4 editorial employees – would be fired. John Bowman, the former executive editor of the San Mateo Times, part of the Media News group, heard that figure tossed around at a top-level meeting of Media News editors in April. He broke an unofficial code of silence to announce the numbers because he is so disheartened by what is happening to the industry. (Read his gloomy and depressing assessment of Bay Area MediaNews papers here.)

But on Wednesday Hutton said that she didn’t know where those numbers came from – and she was at the same meeting as Bowman.

This will be the third round of cuts at the Mercury News in the past 18 months.

“Everyone is so weary,” said an editor at the paper. “Weary, weary, weary. It’s a huge panic. The real danger is to democracy. Someone has to cover the city councils and Boards of Supervisors and police departments and corporations and hold them all accountable.”

Hutton has been at the Mercury News less than three weeks. She replaced Susan Goldberg, who left to take a job at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Hutton was previously vice-president of Community Newspapers, a collection of smaller Bay Area papers, and worked before that as an editor of the Detroit Free Press. Hutton apparently took the job knowing she would have to oversee deep cuts in the Mercury News operations. She told her staff that the job “was too good to pass up.”

Hutton also told her staff that she would try and reinvent the Mercury in the coming months, drawing on the model presented by She wants to “blow up the paper” and “do things differently.” In this model, readers, rather than just reporters, help determine what is covered.

"I would love to be the ones who figure this out,” Hutton told her staff, adding that “readers in Silicon Valley should be willing to read an innovative product.”

At this point, weary staffers at the paper are willing to try some new things, as long as they keep their integrity. But whether that will happen is still a big question mark.

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